Nick Saylor, Staff Writer
Bryce Harper's 8th inning home run gave the Phillies the late lead in Sunday night's game. Photo//Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports, via Reuters.
As the MLB Playoffs continued to roll on, the Championship Series was next up. The ALCS and NLCS act as the “Final 4 of MLB.” The series are each best-of-seven games with the winners moving on to the World Series. The higher seeded team has home field advantage in Games 1, 2, 6, and 7. The lesser seeded team is home for Games 3, 4, and 5 and can attempt to make a mid-series push.
In the American League, the #1 Houston Astros had home field advantage over the #2 New York Yankees. The Astros came off of a warmup (if you call it) with the Mariners. They easily disposed of them and had their eyes on the next round immediately. Houston, as experienced in the postseason as any team out there, looked to take down the juggernaut Yankees and return back to the promised land for the fourth time in the last six years.
As for the New York Yankees, they had their hands full with the scrappy Cleveland Guardians team. They played all five games to eventually eliminate Cleveland. New York definitely did not have a five game marathon series with Cleveland in their plans, so it was interesting to see how New York would manage this series against a much better opponent with short rest.
In the National League, the #5 San Diego Padres received home field advantage as they were the higher seed. San Diego just recently knocked off their cross state rival Los Angeles Dodgers, so they were carrying a lot of momentum into this series.
The new Cinderella team to take MLB by storm, the Philadelphia Phillies, were led by great leaders all throughout the organization. From manager Rob Thompson to star Bryce Harper, even to the front office with GM Dave Dombrowski. These guys are committed. The Phillies knocked off the Braves to get to this point, so Philly had a lot of momentum of their own heading into this series just like San Diego. This made for a great series.
#2 New York Yankees vs. #1 Houston Astros
Game 1 featured an interesting pitching matchup: New York’s Jameson Taillon against Houston’s Justin Verlander. Taillon opened the series, allowing other starters to rest, and the Astros looked to pounce. Taillon escaped with minimal damage through 4.2 innings and only allowed one run.
Verlander, however, looked immaculate. JV tossed six innings of 11 strikeout ball; classic Verlander. 6th inning home runs from Chas McCormick and Yuli Gurriel, along with a 7th inning Jeremy Peña blast put the Astros ahead. RBIs from Yankees Anthony Rizzo and Harrison Bader would not be enough as the Astros took Game 1, 4-2.
As the Yankees looked to bounce back, they sent Luis Severino to the hill to keep them in the series. Countering from Houston was their other ace, Framber Valdez, who was immaculate as well.
Valdez threw seven innings of no run ball with nine strikeouts. Severino went five innings, but allowed three runs thanks to a 3rd inning Alex Bregman go-ahead home run. Late RBIs from Gleyber Torres and Rizzo would again not be enough as Houston locked up New York and took Game 2 by a score of 3-2. Houston now had a 2-0 series lead.
Game 3 brought the series back to New York, and the Yankee faithful looked to get behind their ace early. Gerrit Cole took the rubber for the Yankees and looked to keep his team competitive. Cole turned in five innings along with seven strikeouts, but allowed three runs.
Cole's effort was solid, but the Yankee bats went ice cold. They only registered three hits all game thanks to Christain Javier's solid performance of 5.1 IP allowing no runs and striking out five. McCormick touched Cole up in the 2nd inning and that ended up being enough. Trade deadline acquisitions Trey Mancini and Christain Vazquez put the Astros up 5-0. That would be the final score as Houston took a commanding 3-0 series lead, one win away from the World Series.
The Yankees looked to show signs of life as they sent surprise star Nestor Cortes Jr. to the mound. He was faced by the right-handed offerings of Houston’s Lance McCullers.
The Yankees hopped out to an early 3-0 lead after two innings. Torres and Giancarlo Stanton gave New York the quick lead. Peña and Gurriel snatched the lead back immediately as Gurriel plated a few with a base hit while Peña delivered a big blast to give the Astros an outright lead and quiet Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees responded as Bader went yard and Rizzo knocked in a runner, but it still was not enough. The juggernaut Astros rallied singles from Bregman and Yordan Alvarez to take a 6-5 lead. Ryan Pressly came out of the bullpen to shut it down in the 9th to send the Houston Astros to another World Series.
Peña was named the ALCS Most Valuable Player.
Jeremy Peña (6-17) .353/2 HR/4 RBI
Alex Bregman (5-15) .333/2 HR/4 RBI
Yuli Gurriel (5-15 ).333/1 HR/4 RBI
Justin Verlander (6.1) IP /3 H /1 ER/11 K
Framber Valdez (7.0) IP /4 H/0 ER/9 K
Ryan Pressly (3.1) IP/0 H/0 ER/6 K/3 SV
Jeremy Peña shrugs to the New York Crowd after launching a home run. Photo//Gabe Lacques/USA TODAY
#6 Philadelphia Phillies vs. #5 San Diego Padres
Aces were wild in Game 1 of the NLCS. For the Padres, Yu Darvish tossed seven innings, allowing two runs while striking out seven. Philadelphia ace and workhorse Zach Wheeler lasted seven innings, allowing no runs while striking out eight.
Runs were at a premium, but a fourth inning solo home run from Bryce Harper and a solo home run from Kyle Schwarber in the sixth were enough. The two solo shots gave Philadelphia the Game 1 victory 2-0 as Jose Alvarado and Seranthony Domínguez nailed it down in the late innings.
Game 2 was all about offense. Starters Aaron Nola and Blake Snell both went roughly five innings as the bats were out to play. Solo shots from Brandon Drury, Josh Bell, and Manny Machado gave the Padres a surge. A five-run seventh inning powered the Padres to a Game 2 win 8-5.
A cool moment from this game was Austin Nola, who is on the Padres, getting to face off against his brother Aaron of Philadelphia. Austin roped a single plating two runners.
Rhys Hoskins also went yard, and seven of the nine Phillies recorded hits in the loss.
As the series headed back to Philadelphia for Game 3, the Phillies looked to set the tone. They did just that with a Schwarber solo shot in the first inning. That let Philly starter Ranger Suárez settle in and turn in five innings of great work.
For the Padres, their postseason horse Joe Musgrove toed the slab. He gave 5.2 innings of four-run ball. Jean Segura blew the game open in the 4th off of Musgrove. As Musgrove departed, the Philles gained momentum. An Alec Bohm double sealed the deal and gave them the 4-2 Game 3 win to take the 2-1 series lead.
Offense was out again as the bats were strong in Game 4 with two home runs from Hoskins, solo shots from J.T. Realmuto and Schwarber, along with two more solo shots from Machado and Juan Soto. You could say runs were cheap today.
Starters Bailey Falter and Mike Clevinger each did not get out of the 1st inning and this game turned into a bullpen game early. As both teams' pens were drained, Philly prevailed as they treaded the waters on their way to a 10-6 victory. 16 combined runs and 19 combined hits. WOW.
The Phillies had one thing on their mind heading into Game 5: Get it done. Aces collided once more as Darvish and Wheeler faced off. The pitchers both went six innings, giving up two runs.
As the game was close in the 8th inning, Harper launched a majestic go-ahead home run to give the Phillies the lead and all of the momentum in the world. It propelled them to a 4-3 victory and sent them back to the World Series for the first time since 2009.
Bryce Harper was named the NLCS Most Valuable Player.
Bryce Harper (9-20) .400/2 HR/5 RBI
Kyle Schwarber (6-15) .400/3 HR/4 RBI
Rhys Hoskins (4-18) .222/4 HR/7 RBI
Zach Wheeler (13.0) IP/4 H/2 ER/16 K
Seranthony Domínguez (4.0) IP/2 H/1 ER/7 K/1 SV
The table is now set for the Phillies and Astros to take center stage in the Fall Classic beginning on Friday in Houston. This is going to be a series you do not want to miss.